Film-making was something I never really imagined myself doing, even though I've always been drawn to films as a media. Gof ya-hu manegga' mubi siha. Lao gi minagahet taya' nai hu konsidera na sina mama'titinas yu' mubi siha. Over the past few years I've been able to work on several projects, sometimes as just a consultant, sometimes as a supporter and a few times as one of the primary filmmakers. It has been exciting and naturally time-consuming.
Here is one film that I did a small amount of consulting for, with the help of Ken Gofigan Kuper who is attending graduate school at UH Manoa.
Q&A with Filmmaker Hiroshi Katagiri
by Ben Salas II
The Sunday Post
November 6, 2016
Throughout the years, Saipan has long been associated with many
things: World War II, tourism, garment factories, commonwealth politics,
Chamorro and Carolinian culture, and as a Pacific island paradise. And
while various media entities have used Saipan as a shooting location for
everything from Japanese tourism ads to Korean TV dramas, the island
has never made any Top 10 lists of film production destinations. A
Bollywood or Busan it is not.
That’s what makes Hiroshi
Katagiri’s selection of Saipan so special as the setting for his
feature-length directorial debut with the horror film, “Gehenna: Where
Death Lives.” As a genre-defining creature designer, sculptor, and
makeup effects mastermind, Katagiri, has worked on blockbuster films
like Pirates of the Caribbean, Alien v Predator Requiem, and The Hunger
Games. With 25 years of film industry experience and over 40 feature
films to his credit, Katagiri is far from a novice. The fact that he saw
a different kind of potential in Saipan as a setting bodes well for the
CNMI and Guam’s emerging film industry.
I reached out to Katagiri to ask about his career and what drew him toward our corner of the world. [This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
Please share a little about your beginnings and how you got into the creature creation and special effects business.
left Japan when I was 18, after graduating from high school. The whole
reason I moved to America was to pursue student internships as a special
makeup effects artist, designer, and sculptor for the movie industry. I
spent 10 months in Washington studying English language before
eventually relocating to LA. I was fortunate enough to start as an
intern when my field in the industry was still pretty new, because it
allowed me to build a nice work portfolio. After about seven or eight
years of working in the industry, I began working for the late Stan
Winston. He is a legend in my line of work. His studio was working on
two big Steven Spielberg productions at the time; “A.I.” and “Jurassic
Park III.” They were holding openings for skilled makeup and effects
artists so I guess it was just about the timing.
How much did you know about Saipan prior to writing the script for “Gehenna?” Had you traveled here before?
had never been to Saipan prior to shooting “Gehenna.” However, due to
its historical significance during World War II and the Battle of
Saipan, I was quite familiar with the island. I think all Japanese know
at least a little about Saipan. At the same time, there were certain
things about Saipan that I knew could only be learned by going there.
What about Saipan drew you to it? Why were you convinced it would be a perfect location for a horror film?
on Saipan actually worked to my advantage. This was my first
feature-length film as a director, so I was working on a limited budget.
I needed a location that was isolated, limited size, and not as costly
to shoot at. I did a lot of research about the fierce fighting that took
place in Saipan between the Americans and the Japanese during WWII. I
was fascinated with the concept of a Japanese underground military base
and built a story around that setting. I needed a place that did not
feel too much like Japan or too much like the U.S, but somewhere in
between. Yet, I also needed it to feel unique. Saipan was perfect.
have changed since the days of the tourism economic boom that once
brought many Japanese investors to Saipan. The market is different. Do
you think a film like “Gehenna” can spark interest in Saipan as a
shooting location for other filmmakers?
Well, I know in
Asia, Korea is a good market to continue to pitch to. They have a very
strong film industry. For Japan, you could market to Japanese music
artists to shoot their music videos [in Saipan] because music videos are
a really big thing these days, especially in Asia. The biggest
challenge to overcome is limited infrastructure and the lack of readily
available filmmaking resources on island. The upside, like I mentioned
earlier, is it is it relatively inexpensive and quick to move from one
shooting location to another. There is strong potential though. The more
people learn about my production and how shooting was fractioned so
that about two-thirds of the film was shot in LA and about one-third in
Saipan, they might be inspired by that. It could give them some ideas on
how to shoot in a place like Saipan and still make a quality film with
high production value.
I haven’t seen the film yet, but
from the trailers I can tell it has a distinct classical Japanese horror
feel to it, almost reminiscent of “Ju-on” and “Ringu.” What would you
say separates the Japanese horror genre from U.S. horror films?
most obvious difference between traditional Japanese horror and
traditional U.S. horror is in the motives of the killer or the villain.
Usually, in American horror, it is made clear what the killer wants to
do. He wants to kill people and he chases them down. In traditional
Japanese horror, the intentions of the killer or the villain remains
unclear until the end. It remains a mystery why the evil is doing what
it does. The good guys have to investigate and find out. [Fans of the
genre may have] noticed how many Western and American horror films of
the last few years have been remaking Japanese horror films, or are now
using the Japanese formula of horror.
Were you familiar with local superstitions and legends from Saipan before visiting?
Actually, I was not. All of my research was mainly done on WWII,
combined with my knowledge of certain Japanese superstitions. But when I
traveled to Saipan and learned more about the locals and their culture,
I became inspired to incorporate some of their legends and
superstitions into the story. It made the story scarier and more
powerful. It made it more unique and interesting.
What was it like working with a Saipanese crew?
were all so friendly and accommodating. One of the local hires, Keoni,
was always attentive and went out of his way to make all of the cast and
crew comfortable. When he knew I was thirsty, he gathered fresh
coconuts from the nearest trees for me to drink. I got the VIP
treatment! (Laughs) The people at Marianas Visitors Authority, the
people we needed to get permits from, went the extra mile to take care
of our transportation needs and made sure we always had private security
escorts. Even the staff at our hotel were extremely helpful and
friendly. I have lived in LA for many years and that is not something
you experience very often. People in Saipan have such great hospitality
What advice do you have for other independent filmmakers seeking to use a Kickstarter campaign to fund their projects?
can recommend Kickstarter but it is not easy. You must first focus on
the limits of your budget and envision the cheapest way possible that
you can accomplish your production. Know what resources you already have
available to you so that you can save more money. For your first
Kickstarter production, plan your story around the reality of your
production limits. If you know your film will not raise $1 million, do
not write a script that calls for a lot of expensive special effects
that you cannot afford. Expect to do a lot by yourself at first. But if
you make things clear for your funders, they will like that. People will
be drawn to your passion. Show them and they will start believing.
independent horror film, “Gehenna: Where Death Lives,” screens in
various film festivals this Halloween season. To read the Sunday Post’s
previous reporting on “Gehenna” click here.